“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16a)
Have you ever really understood the Gospel, the central message of Christianity, for yourself?
According to the Bible God is eternal, all-knowing, sovereign, and good. His goodness is simultaneously a tremendous blessing to all humankind and our biggest problem. Let me explain.
God’s character is made up of many attributes, all of which are good. He is loving, merciful, holy, pure, patient, gracious, and full of joy. But as both the New and Old Testaments are abundantly clear on, he also has revealed his law, he judges people according to that law, and has wrath. I want us to keep in mind that God’s attributes are all good. His love is not conditional, His holiness is not hypocritical, and His wrath is not founded in selfishness or insecurity, as is ours.
This is the Lord who has created the world and people in his own image – designed to worship and be satisfied in Him, forever.
“But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, and he judges the world with righteousness…” (Psalm 9: 7-8a)
What you need to see, is that this is the God we want to be judge of the world.
Take the example of a murderer/rapist who is caught red-handed and brought to a courtroom, in front of the most prominent judge in the country. He has been found guilty beyond all shadow of doubt. After reviewing all of the injustices and evils he committed, the judge gives the following verdict: ‘I see all of the evil you have done, but I am a loving and merciful judge. I pardon you, go free.’
I don’t think I need to explain why this is not a just verdict. But is this not the common view of God? He is a big grampa in the stratosphere who doles out smiles and nice feelings. No wrath, no justice, and certainly no power to exercise his will. We expect that since God is supposedly ‘good’, he would be expected to give me mercy for my relatively few, insignificant sins I amassed over my lifetime.
Our True Condition:
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity, your lips have spoken lies; your tongue mutters wickedness.”
(Isaiah 59: 1-3)
If we compare ourselves to the murderer in the story, maybe we can find ourselves in pretty good shape. But that will not be the standard. The reason why God’s goodness poses a problem to us is because God is not like this judge. Not only does he see every deed, thought, motivation, and hidden thing you’ve ever done, he judges you according to his perfect character, which we see later to be expressed in his Son, Jesus Christ. And all of us are found wanting. If God did not punish sin, he would not be a good judge and he would not truly love what is good. It is as if there was a microchip in your brain, recording all of the things you’ve ever thought about, and a DVD was shown with this information in Times Square, broadcasted worldwide. Your sins are even more exposed, obvious, and obscene before the Lord’s eyes.
A question – why is it when we hear about God’s law, we turn away in disgust? What is it that we find so terrible?
Is it the commandment that you ought to love your neighbour as yourself? What about ‘do not lie’? ‘Do not steal’? Is it that fornication or cheating on your spouse are actually perfectly acceptable things, and you ought to be able to do them? No. We are a conflicted people. Though at some level we know these things are wrong, we have an itch, a longing – a desire to do things that are against God’s word. And my question is, why?
When is the last time you saw a mother teaching her child how to be self-centered, or jealous, or angry? You see, it isn’t the bad things which humans need to be taught how to do. Sin is our default – our most comfortable and natural state. Our desires lead us to covet, deceive, thirst for wealth, and be filled with pride. But sin does not satiate us the way we expect. It causes destruction, both on small and large scales. God has given us his law because it is a reflection of his own character, and any deviation from that is a sin against God himself.
But forcing ourselves to obey God in order to gain his approval is not possible. We are all already justly condemned. There is no amount of self-help, finding yourself, or good deeds that will ever undo what you have already committed. In this discussion, it has been mentioned that a good God must punish any wrongdoing, or he would cease to be good.
The problem then, is what should God do with you?
The Only Hope:
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:6, 8-9)
A crime against an infinitely good and perfect being is an infinite crime. When you sin, you hurt yourself, you hurt others, and there are consequences. But ultimately, your sin is against the one who gave you the breath in your lungs you used to curse him.
“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” (Psalm 51:4)
But out of no reason other than his great love, kindness, and mercy, the Lord Jesus Christ did not leave his people in a state of condemnation – even though he would be totally right to do so. Jesus Christ, the eternal sovereign God of all time entered human history to obey the Law of God that we have so completely transgressed. Though being tempted, tried, and stressed in all of the ways we are, he remained faithful in every minutia of life. He stood up for justice, cared for the poor, healed the sick, and turned from evil, lust, greed, pride, covetousness, foolishness, and rage. He followed the words of his Father with zeal and joy though he was scorned, hated, sorrowful, and wrongfully accused.
You see, Jesus lived the life you could never live. Then, he died the death you should have died. In so doing, he achieved the salvation you didn’t deserve.
On the cross, Jesus was judged as if he committed the sins you and I committed. So in a sense, we put Jesus Christ there. But in a greater sense, Jesus put himself there.
“No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
– Jesus (John 10:18)
Additionally, by the cross we are offered the righteousness of Christ as a gift. This is often referred to as the Great Exchange, or the doctrine of justification. Jesus simultaneously accepted, satisfied, and repudiated God’s judgement against the sin of people, so that by faith, we might receive the righteousness of his obedience to God. The filthy garment of the weight of sin which you wear can be replaced by a shining white robe of purity.
You may ask, ‘why did Jesus have to die, why couldn’t the Father just forgive us?’
“…Because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be the just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3: 25b-26)
In the first two sections, I laboured to demonstrate that God must punish sin out of necessity. Not because he truly enjoys doing so, and not because he couldn’t see what would happen in the future before he created the world. There must be satisfaction of his justice, and that is why Jesus lovingly offered his life. And Jesus did exactly what he set out to do.
What should I do?
“…The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.”
- Jesus (Mark 1:15)
“And he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
(2 Corinthians 5:15)
There are two responses to Christ. One is rejection, apathy, or indifference and one is repentance and faith. One is valuing the fleeting pleasures of sin more than God, and the other is seeing the devastation and filth of sin; turning to the pleasures of God.
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
- Jesus (John 3: 18-21)
Friend, your sin is destroying you. It weighs you down in this life, but more importantly, it will condemn you on the day of judgement. Cast yourself upon Christ! Turn from your sin, and accept the free gift of grace being extended to you this day. For the broken hearted, there is unending streams of mercy. There is no sin too great and no person too far off that Christ will not run towards and embrace. If you see yourself as totally inadequate and damaged in the light of scripture, Jesus says this to you:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
(Matthew 5: 3-6)
Turn to him today. No one who does is ever disappointed.
Alternatively, if today you think your life is just fine the way it is, and you do not think your sin is a big deal, there is no mercy for you (James 4:6). At least not now. The Lord requires an empty hand of faith. If your hands are full of self-righteousness, self-reliance, and self-indulgence, nothing can be done. This is why the first two sections are full of hard truths – only those who see their sin for what it really is, can appreciate what Christ has done and see it as a beautiful thing (James 4:10).
Evidence of Faith:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” – Jesus (Matthew 7: 21-23) [emphasis added]
This passage clearly says that there are many people who believe themselves saved, yet they are not. The people in this scenario call Jesus the Lord. How many ‘Christians’ sit in church week after week, wearing the label of Christian, but their life so contradicts this claim? Therefore we must examine ourselves, to see if we are in the faith. This is not an examination of our performance, to see if we have done well enough to get saved – rather it is examining if our lives reflect ever having been saved. This is a very important distinction.
Think of it this way: If God has the power to raise Jesus from the dead, and save people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, does He not have the power to change your life?
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (2 Thessalonians 4:3a)
God saves people, in order to conform them to the image of his Son. This means that believing in Jesus won’t make your life easy. Actually, it gets much harder – because you have a redeemed spirit, with new desires to love, serve, honour, and glorify God but you remain in a body which is still unredeemed and actually wages war against you.
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6: 12-14)
The questions we must ask, is not whether we have attained moral perfection yet. Rather ask yourself if you deeply desire to please God. Do you desire that enough to cut the idols and sin patterns out of your life? Do you seek His strength to empower you to do so? When you fall into sin, are you sickened and saddened that you have disobeyed and grieved the Spirit? Do you quickly repent; reminding yourself of what Christ has done, and take the necessary actions so that it may not happen again? Is it a joy for you to serve Christ?
May this article assist you in understanding the reason the Bible was written – in the words of the apostle John, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13)
Cling to Christ, the hope of glory.
For further resources, here is a sermon that is particularly helpful:
Scott Whynot, my fellow writer, and I encourage people to leave comments. We will respond when we can. If you want to contact us directly with a suggestion or comment, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Paul can be followed on Twitter @pjenkins70.